Once, I walked in on my mother and my stepfather, sleeping in the early morning hours, naked. I don’t remember why I was there. Their bed was a mattress on the floor. My stepfather’s flabby white ass glared back at me, peeking above the blanket. That blanket had some sort of animal on it–an eagle, a bear, a wolf howling at the moon, something like that. He was the sort of man who would own a blanket like that. He had a large, bushy mustache. He owned a yellow Datsun. He collected beer bottles and knives. He was also the sort of man who instructed me each night to lie on my stomach so he could tell me a story. He would gently pull my pajama bottoms and underwear down, and lightly trace his fingers over my own bare ass before bed. I remember the heat and alarm that flushed through me, but I didn’t know what to say or do, so I said and did nothing.
I was maybe 7 or 8 years old when I walked in on he and my mother, and I recoiled at his surprising nakedness, and quickly and quietly shut the door. I felt like I had made some grave violation, that they would find out and punish me. But they simply slept on, and I went back to my bed and fell asleep. When I woke, I found them in the kitchen, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, like always. The smoke hung around their heads and mixed with the morning light.
In that kitchen, my mother taught me how to mix equal parts cinnamon into sugar, to spread butter onto warm toast, and pour the mixture over it. We shook the excess onto the plate, and dipped our fingers into the sweet brown powder and licked them. I could eat six slices of cinnamon bread at a time. I could eat a loaf. I was a heavy child, a voracious eater, and I always wanted more.
We did dishes together in that kitchen, filled water balloons for fights. My sister and brother and I spent hours building Play-doh and Lego creations at the big, round table. There’s something incongruous about the fact that my mother was a drug dealer whose life was unraveling, but that her kitchen counter featured matching ceramic canisters marked “Flour,” “White Sugar,” “Brown Sugar.” This was a novelty to me. She owned a spice rack, and she used her spice rack. Also a novelty.
The house the kitchen occupied was a shabby rental at the end of a dirt road in the hills above Lake Elsinore. The house was infested with carpenter ants and tarantulas. The tire swing in the back yard swung directly over a cliff. The kitchen, though, was clean, organized, inviting, safe. I only went to my mother’s house for sporadic weekend visits, and, once, a whole summer, over the course of three years. It was a temporary place to her, but it was the only place in which I ever remember her living. I have a lot of terrible memories of her, of that house, but none of them took place in the kitchen.
Photo credit: http://www.thekitchn.com/good-question-54-87349